AU Baseball Analysis: Young Talent Shows Up

A strong offense and clutch pitching helped the Tigers to a sweep of Hofstra to open the 2007 season.

Auburn, Ala.--It was a record setting opening weekend for the Auburn baseball Tigers as they scored the most total runs in a three-game series since 2002 and scored in double figures in all three games of a series for the first time since doing so against Kentucky against 2003. Because of that it should come as no surprise that several players had huge opening weekends with none bigger than junior Josh Donaldson.

A preseason All-SEC pick and an All-American candidate, Donaldson lit up Hofstra pitching for all three days and should be a strong candidate for national player of the week. On the weekend Donaldson was 7-13 (.538) with three home runs, two doubles, 11 runs batted in and 18 total bases. While his numbers were terrific he wasn't alone as the Tigers hit .396 as a team for the series.

Also putting impressive numbers was fellow All-SEC candidate Mike Bianucci. The sophomore was 4-10 with two home runs and four RBI while also earning five walks.

Senior center fielder Bruce Edwards collected seven hits in 14 at-bats and stole four bases in the series. Slater says that the offense was very solid the entire weekend and he was especially proud of the way the team hit at key moments in all three games.

"For the most part all weekend the situational hitting was pretty good," Auburn's coach says. "We left some runners on base early in the game, but we're doing a good job of driving runs in and moving runners. I'm very happy with the situational hitting this weekend.

"Sunday we used a little bit of everything. We got the big bomb from Mike, which was obviously huge to extend the lead, but to get the lead we used some bunts and stolen bases. It was a combination of things. I think that's kind of how our offense is going to work. We're going to let Mike and Donny and Andy (Andy Bennett) swing the bat in the middle. Those guys in front of them and behind them are fairly athletic guys and we're going to short-game with those guys a little bit."

While the veterans in the Auburn order did their parts, a freshman class that came in with high accolades lived up to advance billing at least for the first weekend. Right fielder Ross Smith had one of the best first weekends in Auburn history as he started all three games and had seven hits in 13 attempts (.538). His totals included four doubles and three runs scored.

His numbers just barely were better tan those of freshman second baseman Robert Brooks. The Enterprise native was 6-14 (.429) with two doubles and five runs batted in.

Redshirt freshman Eric Skinner started at shortstop and also performed well with a 4-14 (.308) weekend and five RBI. Austin Hubbard started the Sunday game and while he struggled at times he also showed he has the ability to get the job done. Freshmen Dustin Spruill and Joseph Sanders also saw action on the weekend and Slater says the class gave a glimpse of what it is capable of against Hofstra.

"We have good players," Slater says. "I like our young players, I really do. They're not playing like freshmen. They are playing like guys that know they are good and believe they are good.

"I have all the confidence in the world in Dustin Spruill behind the plate. I thought he caught real well. Austin struggled with his command a little bit, but he'll work through that. He and coach (Butch) Thompson will work through that and he'll get better. He's been lights out for us in the preseason, but he had a little of the freshman jitters. The other guys like Brooks, Smith, Spruill and Skins are playing like players are supposed to play. These guys have all played a lot of baseball and I don't think playing at Auburn has made them nervous at all."

Bryan Woodall had one of the best opening day starts on the mound in Auburn history.

Another freshman will get a chance to shine Tuesday at 3 p.m. when the Tigers face David Lipscomb at Plainsman Park. Montgomery's Taylor Thompson will get the start and pitch to a count of 90 pitches before giving way to Evan Crawford. Back this week, Crawford is expected to move back into the starting rotation for this weekend's series against UNC-Greensboro.

Top Weekend Performer: There is little doubt after Josh Donaldson blitzed Hofstra's pitching all weekend.

B Biggest Surprise: It's not a surprise around the college baseball world that Auburn's newcomers have potential, but Auburn's freshman class looked to be very capable of playing a big role immediately in the 2007 season. Right fielder Ross Smith showed the tools necessary to be a prime time performer in the coming months and years.

Top Pitcher: After struggling as a freshman, Phenix City's Bryan Woodall shut down Hofstra Friday night, giving up just three hits and no runs in seven innings of work.

Most Improved: Woodall would be a candidate for this as well after one, but Bruce Edwards gets the nod. After a tough junior year Edwards collected seven hits and scored five runs on the first weekend.

Auburn's Stock Report: Tigers are increasing in value but much more will be known in two weeks when Arizona State comes to town.

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